”Honor the Past; Deserve the Present“

The Great War, as described by participants featured in our
Untold Stories

Draft Notice

  • "I will always remember that day. I came into the house for some reason and [Tony McAndrews] and his mother were both crying. He turned to me and said, 'I will make a hell of a soldier, won't I?' I never knew how he got along with army life, or whether he was one of the many that never returned."

    [L. C. Farr, "Long Ago and Farr Away, A Family History," 1980, TS, p. 80]

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En Route to Basic Training

  • In Marshfield, Missouri, Louie Farr boarded a troop train to St. Louis, Missouri, for training at Jefferson Barracks, a few miles from St. Louis. En route, "Every stop the train made, the guys would hang out the windows and yell and whistle at all the girls we saw."

    [L. C. Farr, "Long Ago and Farr Away, A Family History," 1980, TS, p. 81]

  • At Rolla, Missouri, en route from Marshfield, Missouri, to St. Louis, draftees "discovered a real doll walking along the platform with an older woman; I suppose it was her mother. . . . After some persuasion and urging by the older woman also, she came over and shook hands with and kissed as many of the guys as she could before the train pulled out. I guess they felt sorry for us and perhaps felt that was the least and maybe the last thing that they could do to cheer us up."

    [L. C. Farr, "Long Ago and Farr Away, A Family History," 1980, TS, p. 82]

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Basic Training

  • "All inductees were given a list of clothing and other articles which they were to take to camp with them. I bought two O. D. wool shirts, plus socks, underwear and other articles. When we got to camp, we found out that we did not need any of the clothing. We found out that the army furnished all this stuff and w spent our money for naught. The sergeants and corporals, at the camp, swore at the Draft Boards for having us buy all this junk. Reminding us that our good old uncle furnished all our clothes."

    [L. C. Farr, "Long Ago and Farr Away, A Family History," 1980, TS, p. 81]

  • At Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri, non-commissioned officers escorted the just arrived inductees to their quarters. "These characters searched all of our luggage to make sure we were not carrying liquor or any other so called contraband. They found a pint of liquor in one old boys suitcase. They quickly confiscated it. I am positive they took it off somewhere and drank it themselves."

    [L. C. Farr, "Long Ago and Farr Away, A Family History," 1980, TS, p. 82]

  • Inductees at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri, were awakened early for their first Army mess hall meal at 7:00 a.m. Louie Farr noted, "None of the stuff looked good to me."

    [L. C. Farr, "Long Ago and Farr Away, A Family History," 1980, TS, p. 82]

  • Louis Farr, a draftee in his first full day at Jefferson Barracks, St.Louis, Missouri, describes how he and fellow draftees were vaccinated in an all-day operation, without lunch or anything to drink. "When we were finished with breakfast, we were marched to the examination room, where we were ordered to strip right down to our birthday suits. I don't know how many of us there were, but there must have been two or three hundred in this one big room. All as naked as plucked chickens. We were lined up and shunted before the examiners one at a time and were fingerprinted, examined and vaccinated. . . . They must have vaccinated us against every disease known to man. The vaccine made nearly every one of the guys sick."

    [L. C. Farr, "Long Ago and Farr Away, A Family History," 1980, TS, pp. 83-84]

  • One enlistee, going through basic training at Camp Logan, Texas, saw a difference in the way draftees and enlistees were treated. "They don't have a great deal of use for the drafted man down here. They are all classed as slackers, and the poor devils have a hard time of it sometimes."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his brother Alexander, 14 February 1918]

  • In "gas school" doughboys learned how to use a gas mask. "From the haversack to the proper place on a man's 'map' takes about ten minutes at first, and when they get through cussing at you and you have tried it enough it takes about ten seconds. Ten seconds is not any too soon when you stop to think that it only takes three whiffs to send a man into the next world."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret McCornack, 8 March 1918]

  • Doughboys learned that their pay barely covered the essentials. "I took out ten thousand dollar's [sic] insurance, feeling that the chance was too good to let slip. It costs me $7.80 per month. When everything is taken out of my pay I have just $7.20 left per month, and out of that I have to have hair-cut every week, and then after I buy my stamps and tobacco I am just about as flat as a pancake."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his father Dr. E. A. McCornack, 28 March 1918]

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Troop Train to East Coast

  • "We don't know where we are going, but think it will be New York or New Jersey. The people all along the line are treating us fine. We get good eats, flowers, magazines, etc., and this morning when I was standing guard on the platform at Springfield, Missouri, a lady drove up in a big car, jumped out and ran through the mud, and handed me a great big five dollar bill to spend when I get to France."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret McCornack, 25 April 1918]

  • "We have found that no matter where we go there is nothing too good for a soldier. This good old U.S.A. is sure treating her soldiers royally and it makes a man proud to think that he can serve and wear a khaki uniform. Every town we went through turned out even at night and I tell you no one ever traveled across this country who was treated any better than we were. At one town where we got out to exercise they had us form two lines down the center of the main street and then they drove between us in autos and passed each man cake, fruit, cigarettes, flowers and something to read. At Rogers, Ark., while I was asleep in the lower berth I heard someone rapping on the window and when I raised the window and stuck my head out an old gray-haired lady handed me the nicest bunch of roses you ever saw. And just think, it was 12:30 A.M. and raining. Well, I guess that is what you call patriotism, isn't it? That is what we found all along the way."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna McCornack, 5 May 1918]

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24-Hour Pass in New York City

  • "Yesterday, I went to New York on a 24-hour pass and sure did do the town up fine. After paying our carfare, the fellow whom I went with and I had $1.5- apiece to see the city on and buy a bed and grub. We saw a lot more of the town than you would think we could in the time we had and with the amount of our cash. We rode on the 'Rubber-neck' wagons, street cars, and the elevated, and lost no time in going from one end of the town to the other in daylight. At night we took in the Bowery and Chinatown. . . .We took in Coney Island, Fifth Avenue, Riverside Drive, Grant's Tomb, statue of Liberty, Sheepshead Bay Race Track, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn Bridge. . . .We finally wound up at the Hotel Gerard, a fine high-class hotel and high-priced to all except soldiers. Any man wearing Uncle Sam's uniform gets a greatly reduced rate."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna McCornack, 5 May 1918]

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Troop Ship, U. S. to England

  • "In the morning we passed the grave of the Lusitania. The life boats were swung over, the guns loaded and twice as many eyes as there were passengers searched the sea for periscopes."

    [Lt. Ralph Gordon, Diary, 28 January 1918]

  • "There were 18 ships in our convoy and all painted the craziest patterns for camouflage against submarine attack. The ships constantly changed speed. Each ship changed directions every three minutes to foil the aim of any submarine torpedoes."

    [Pvt. Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 9]

  • Two days from Liverpool, a British escort joined the American convoy. Those escort vessels "were small, fast, and very maneuverable. They pitched like a bucking horse" and "took up positions on all four sides of our convoy and escorted us the balance of the trip. We sure were glad, for this was the most dangerous part of the trip from submarines."

    [Pvt. Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 9]

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Cross-Channel Voyage, South Hampton to Cherbourg

  • "The Channel was lousy with U-Boats, so the boat ran like mad and changed direction constantly. . . . We crossed in two hours. . . ."

    [Pvt. Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," August 1983, personal memoir, ts, p. 12]

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Troop Ship, U. S. to France

  • "We are packed like sardines in a box. . . . We are on one of the largest boats in the world, one that was formerly owned by Germany."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, "On the high seas," May 1918]

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Troop Train from Brest to the Front

  • "In nearly every town we have been in so far, the first thing we notice is the number of women wearing black, and the absence of men. By the looks of things I guess France has suffered more than most of us thought she had. The women and the old men are doing all the work."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 24 May 1918]

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Arrival at the Front

  • From the Amiens-Albert area one doughboy wrote, "Well, we are right at the heart of this big war now. . . . Right now as I sit here in a hole in the ground writing, the big shells from Fritz are sailing over my head and landing all around."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter (no salutation), 17 June 1918]

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Facing Death

  • "Another thing which makes a fellow feel nice and cheerful is to see some of the men from some of the other countries making their own crosses. They make them out of nice white wood and some of them do a lot of fancy carving, but I am going to wait a while before I start on mine."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his brother Alexander McCornack, 26 June 1918]

  • "Mostly, the officers in World War I were regular army men. And as a rule were a 'hard boiled' lot. Some had gained the enmity of their men and were afraid to go into the front lines with the men they had trained, where accidents could easily happen."

    [Pvt. Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 34]

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"Aeroplanes"

  • During the Battle of Belleau Wood a U. S. Marine witnessed "an air battle." "I saw a wonderfully thrilling sight . . . –an air battle. For several hours a Hun plane had been flying low up and down our lines observing our activities and probably signaling his artillery our range. He was loafing over our position when out from the clouds above darts a frog plane straight for the Hun; when within range the frog opened up with his machinegun and the next minute the German plane was nothing but a ball of fire."

    [Karl Spencer, Letter to his mother, 28 June 1918, TS]

  • "We see lots of aeroplanes. One night we saw two planes have a fight in the air, until one of them made a dive for the ground and then the scrap was all over. Another night the Huns paid us a visit and dropped a few bombs around us until they were driven away by some other planes. . . . They sounded like a big swarm of angry bees flying in the dark overhead."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his daughter Helen, 1 June 1918]

  • "It is nothing to see fifty or sixty aeroplanes in the air at once, and sometimes we see some pretty lively fights."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter (no salutation), 17 June 1918]

  • "At night the big bombing aeroplanes come over and drop big bombs that shake the ground when they explode, all around. Sometimes our planes get after them and then there is a great fuss up in the sky. They all carry machine guns and it is like someone shooting at a swarm of angry bees. Sometimes they fight until one of more of them has to come down. They do stunts in the air here that we used to think that man could never do and they do them every day."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his son (Edwin? Bob?), 3 July 1918]

  • During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive one doughboy noted about "aeroplanes", "we see them every day and watch the battles where they fight to the end, and the end is usually a long drop to the earth and a final bang of flame and smoke. . . . Another thing we see quite often, and a stunt we don't like, is to have Fritz make a high dive for us, firing his machine-gun as fast as he can all the way down. When we see that we duck for cover mighty fast. Sometimes he will fly along a trench for a long way, firing into the trench, and sometimes he gets 'dropped' by our guns. A man's life here is worth just about one-half of a bad penny."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 8 October 1918]

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Shelling by German Artillery

  • ". . .most of the stunts are pulled off at night. From early in the evening until daylight it is one continual roar, and the only way I can express it is to say it is real hell, with a capital H. . . . Wish you could hear the racket now. There are big guns, machine guns, bombs, rockets and aeroplanes all letting loose at once. You can feel your ears going in and out like an accordion."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his brother Alexander McCornack, 26 June 1918]

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July 4

  • "I suppose you are all ready to celebrate the Fourth of July now and are all through school for the summer. We have a regular Fourth of July here all the time and will be glad when it is over and we can all go home and help you celebrate once a year."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his son (Edwin? Bob?), 3 July 1918]

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Poison Gas

  • "While I am writing this the shells from Fritz are whistling overhead, and once in a while one drops pretty close. At night the roar is something awful and the air is full of shells, aeroplanes and gas bombs. Our gas mask is the best friend we have and a fellow never thinks of going any place [sic] without it."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret McCornack, 21 June 1918]

  • "We spend a good deal of time with our gas mask, and that is one of the best things we have. When you need a mask you need it in a hurry, and the man who hasn't his handy is sure out of luck, and the next thing that is issued to him is a nice little wooden cross. Gas is worse than shell-fire anytime."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his brother Alexander McCornack, 26 June 1918]

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Mud

  • "The trenches are just one mass of mud. I won't try to describe the trenches, but will say this much, that if there is a hell on earth it is in the trenches."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his uncle Will, 14 July 1918]

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Mice and Rats in the Trenches

  • "The first night we had a lot of ground mice for pals, in fact they call on us and crawl over us every night but that doesn't bother any."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter (no salutation), 17 June 1918]

  • While engaged in the 3rd Battle of the Somme one doughboy wrote, "There are thousands of big rats and you can hear them fight and squeal all night as we work, in fact, one came close enough to me the other night so that I ran my bayonet through him and had a good look at him. He was as big as a half grown cat and had the odor of dead meat on him so strong that we couldn't stand the smell, and a soldier can stand most anything."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to George Hanley, 14 September 1918]

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Lice

  • "My pants are all torn, my shirt is in rags, and every man in the outfit is as full of lice as a pet coon. . . ."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 1 September 1918]

  • "I finally got rid of my pet cooties and am nice and clean once more. It nearly broke my heart to part with some of them for they were sure faithful and always on the job, but I have this to console me, I will have some more before long."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 5 September 1918]

  • "If I ever get to where I can bid a last farewell to my pet 'cooties' I sure will be happy. They are true friends. Wherever I go they go, and are everlastingly busy. If I take fourteen off of my shirt tonight, tomorrow night there will be fourteen more there. No matter where you go over here the cooties are there too. I guess they must come out of the air. Sometimes they will eat a man so that he has to go to the hospital, but I guess I don't taste that good to them, for all they do in play tag, run races, and hold dances on me."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 7 January 1919]

  • Following the Armistice, Pvt. Milo Mosier commented on lice, the bane of Western Front soldiery. "I really intend to leave my 'pediculis [sic] corpus' friends in France, but they are very affectionate and they might slip one over on me. Every body in the States seems to think we are all literally alive with insects. We were rather well supplied with them on the front, but we have managed to get rid of them since."

    [Letter, Milo Mosier to (brother) Leo Mosier, 25 February 1919, ts]

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Fleas

  • "We have plenty of cooties and fleas bunking with us. . . . A fellow has to 'read' his shirt every day or they will eat him up. I think we will all make good tailors when we get home, for we all know every seam and stitch on our clothes. The fleas come from the rats, but are not so bad—for when the clothes are turned inside out they will give you the laugh and hop off. All the clothes we own are on our backs and there is no chance to bathe, so it is a case of read your shirt close and often."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret McCornack, 23 September 1918]

  • "When I get rid of the cooties and can go to bed without having the fleas tag up and down my spine, then I will know for sure the war is over."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his father Dr. E. A. McCornack, 24 November 1918]

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Hygiene

  • "I met a fellow from Australia the other day and had a fine chat with him. He likes to fish, so you see that that started something right away. We crawled into a nice hole and talked until after ten at night, swapped yarns and cigarettes, and finally left each other with a date to go swimming in a river a few kilometers from here. Tomorrow is the day I am to meet him for the swim, and it will be a great treat for me as I have not had my clothes off for two weeks,—and I guess he is in the same fix."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret McCornack, 21 June 1918]

  • "We have been at the front four months now, less ten days. . . . We havn't [sic] had a chance to bathe for five weeks and have only had off our clothes to snap the cooties off. I havn't [sic] even washed my face or shaved for over a week."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 3 October 1918]

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Food

  • Re: "meals" during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, "Well, there was no such thing—we each carried a couple boxes of hard bread and with our canteen full of water we had two pieces of hard bread, a drink of water, and a Bull cigarette three times a day for the four days. . . ."

    [Letter, Elton Pease to "Mother and Everybody," ts, 6 October 1918]

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Candy

  • "My, how I long for some candy—I never thot [sic] that I would miss it so much—and so it is with all the boys. The candy business sure will be great when they get back."

    [Letter, Elton Pease to "Mother and Everybody," ts, 6 October 1918]

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Attack on Le Hamel

  • About the American and Australian attack on Le Hamel one doughboy wrote, "From midnight until daylight it was one grand roar, the sky was as red as fire continuously, and there were men, horses, and wagons, motorcycles and trucks rushing here and there like mad, and last but by no means least the Red Cross ambulances. The only way that I can express it is to say that it was Hell, just plain hell and then some. Just imagine big guns firing so fast for three hours that it sounds just like one long roar, and then think of thousands of small guns, rifles and hand grenades added to it and you will know a little about our Fourth of July celebration. I know now what is to have your ear drums go in and out like a lace curtain at the window on a windy day."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to wife Edna, 4 July 1918]

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Taking No Prisoners

  • During the Battle of Belleau Wood the first of six assaults on Hill No. 142 was carried out by the 82nd Company, U. S. Marines. "We were just starting when out from behind a rock comes an unarmed German witharms up in the air shouting 'Kamerad.' A dozen Marines rushed forward with fixed bayonets and struck that man full of holes—Orders were to take no prisoners."

    [Karl Spencer, Letter to his mother, 27 June 1918, ts]

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Destruction of Towns and Landscape

  • One doughboy may have been referring to the city of Albert when he wrote, "We are now at a big pile of wrecked buildings which used to be a large city. Fritz sure did a fine job of wrecking, and still is sending one over now and then just to keep us awake. Unless a person could see it with his own eyes, he would never believe that a city could be so completely destroyed by shell fire."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his uncle Will, 24 July 1918]

  • At Amiens, one doughboy wrote, "We are now in a land which is stripped of nearly everything by shot and shell, and one has only to step outside of his dug-out to see dead men, dead horses and broken things of every kind."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 9 August 1918]

  • In vicinity of Verdun one doughboy wrote, "We are on the site of the world's largest and bloodiest battle, where hundreds of thousands lost their lives. You have read of the place many times as it is a place which has been well written up. There is one place here where there are 500,000 men buried. Some are under ground, but many were never buried at all and are now just a pile of bones,--I saw a shoe with the bones of the foot still in it. The place is over-run by great big rats that hardly get out of the way when anyone approaches. The land is just one mass of shell holes, large and small. It is safe to say that every square yard has a hole. The place is also one mass of barbed wire, which runs in every direction."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 23 September 1918]

  • This doughboy knew that before he arrived in the area (late September 1918), Dead Man's Hill and "the low swampy No Man's Land" was the site where "nearly a million men" had already died, "and now some of our own lie there buried among the shell-holes and bomb craters. . . . All that I can say is that of all the torn, battered places which I have seen, Dead Man's Hill is the limit in awfulness."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 30 November 1918]

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Corpses

  • "It is a common sight to see Allies and Huns lying dead for days, getting bigger and blacker all the time, until the stench is something fierce. Sometimes we find a Hun who looks as though he would go 'bang' like a balloon if he were kicked."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his father Dr. E. A. McCornack, 28 July 1918]

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Horses

  • "We. . .didn't bring no horse with us. We had to get new equipment and new horses. . . . The farmer was told to bring his horse in, and they didn't have nothing to say about it. Only they paid for it. . . . Drafted the horses they did."

    [Thomas Hendricks, 28th Div., Artillery, Audio Tape Interview by Monty Holt, 26 July 1981]

  • "I can remember a woman there. . . . She was hugging the horse so damn much. Yeah. . .she was just hugging the horse and I felt sorry for her. Then, they took him back to camp. . . ."

    [Thomas Hendricks, 28th Div., Artillery, Audio Tape Interview by Monty Holt, 26 July 1981]

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Homeless Pets

  • "We are now in what used to be a big city, but now it is just a pile of stone, brick and wreckage. . . . There are lots of little dogs, cats, and rabbits running around here without any homes. . . ."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his son Bobbie, 24 July 1918]

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Relieved from combat

  • "I had a bath—that was a memorable day. The Major decided that his boys needed washing so we marched the whole battalion about 12 k. to the rear of a small village on the Marne River. The town has been evacuated so we made ourselves at home—new potatoes, green peas, onions and honey. I had honey that day but I certainly paid for it. Several of us put on respirators, wrapped up well and invaded the bee hives. I finished with11 bee stings and a great quantity of excellent honey. After that escapade I filled my tummy and then went for a plunge in the River Marne. We were a happy crew that evening."

    [Karl Spencer, Letter to his mother, 28 June 1918, ts]

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Medical Corps

  • "The medical corps are sure doing fine work here and are working night and day. If ever man deserved medals for bravery, it is the Red Cross stretcher bearers. They work for hours at a time carrying the wounded back about one mile where the ambulances are waiting, and it is the hardest work in the world to carry men that are all chopped to pieces back through the trenches in mud and slime up to the knees, and German shells throwing iron all around."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his father Dr. E. A. McCornack, 28 July 1918]

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Women in Uniform

  • "All the Doughboys salute you as you pass. It is a most odd sensation. The other day I was walking down one of the quaint little streets & met a Captain coming up at the head of about 25 doughboys. The Capt. & boys all saluted me as they passed. I felt as important as Genl. Pershing."

    [Red Cross Canteen Worker Irene Farrell, letter to Dearest Family, ts., 19 April 1919]

  • "You have to remember you are working with a lot of homesick men. . . . It is no place for a silly or indiscreet girl for all you have to do is to smile at a boy and he lays his heart at your feet. Two girls at St. Pierre were sent home a few weeks ago for actions on the platform when the troop trains were in."

    [Red Cross Canteen Worker Irene Farrell, letter to Dearest Mother, ts., 2 June 1919]

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Cigarettes

  • One doughboy wrote home, "please send some American cigarettes and something sweet to eat. We get very little sweet stuff and a U.S. 'fag' as they call them here, is the best thing on earth when you are tired, hungry, sleepy, homesick or nervous. We get tobacco here that is just a mighty poor excuse for a smoke and it seems that a smoke will cure any thing [sic]. Men who never smoked before smoke now and feel as though they really need it."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter (no salutation), 18 June 1918]

  • "Twice the Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. (God bless them) have sent us jam and cakes and chocolate and cigarettes. I smoke cigarettes (when I have them) like a trooper, and especially when I am lying in my hole in the ground and the shells are breaking all around; they quiet one's nerves, I believe."

    [Karl Spencer, Letter to his mother, 27 June 1918, ts]

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Traffic Jam Moving Towards the Front

  • As the Aisne-Marne Offensive began, Sgt. Karl Spencer observed, "A traffic jam on Grand Avenue could not compare with the congested condition of this single road leading through the woods. . . . Filing down the right hand side of the road, three columns of infantry, down the left, two columns; on the right center a continuous stream of vehicles, machine guns, carts, provision and munition trucks, hundreds of artillery pieces and their caissons; occasionally a general in his auto; large French tanks and British armored cars, and probably best of all, the French cavalry, regiment after regiment, going forward at a trot; on the left hand side the road coming out were trucks and ambulances and wagon trains. Troops of the world were represented here—the Americans in their khaki; Moroccans and Italians wearing a dirty brown colored uniform; the Scots in their kilties; Englishmen and Canadians in their khaki; Irish troops wearing Tam o' Shanters, and the French wearing all the differ ent shades of blue imaginable. Here was a display of colors that outclassed the rainbow."

    [Karl Spencer, Letter to his mother, 26 July 1918, ts]

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Meuse-Argonne Offensive

  • One doughboy describes the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a four-hour early morning (September 26, 1918) U.S. artillery barrage, as "one continual roar—the sky was red and it's impossible to tell the noise they made—and I'll bet Fritz sure thot [sic] that hell broke loose on him." Then it was "over the top."

    [Letter, Elton Pease to "Mother and Everybody," ts, 6 October 1918]

  • An early morning advance party of engineers, preparing bridges and roads for the American attack to begin a few hours later, found themselves being shelled by American artillery. Artillery fire fell short, and then was closing in on the engineers as Americans were adjusting range to reach German lines. "I never was so mad before in my life. . . . One fellow with me made what he called his cross and was ready to go 'West'. . . .I just asked God to spare us and I really believe he did answer that prayer, for just in a few minutes the barrage raised and instead of coming on us was going over our heads and among the Fritzies where it should have gone at first. Someone had sent word back to the batteries that they were falling short just in time to save our hides."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 3 October 1918]

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Observation Balloons

  • "In the past three days I'll bet 15 planes have been brought down within a mile of us. Also a few of our balloons and it's also some sight to see the observer jump out with his parachute, which happens quite often within good sight of us right now."

    [Letter, Elton Pease to "Mother and Everybody," ts, 6 October 1918]

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Snipers

  • ". . . the snipers are chained in the trees and sometimes two or three days pass before they are picked off."

    [Letter, Elton Pease to "Mother and Everybody," ts, 6 October 1918]

  • Doughboys were not likely to take snipers alive as prisoners. The sniper "is the most hated of all—and how they like to get them—and when they do, you should see them scramble for his souvenirs—all trying to get his automatic pistol, field glasses, knife, etc."

    [Letter, Elton Pease to "Mother and Everybody," ts, 6 October 1918]

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German Defense of Metz

  • At Metz, "The Germans had their guns stacked wheel to wheel. A jackrabbit couldn't have gotten thru them."

    [Pvt. Roy C. Harper, recollecting a fellow soldier's report, in "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 44]

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Breaching the Hindenburg Line

  • "We all take off our tin hats to the Red Cross and Salvation Army Lassie who do more than their share in cheering up the boys as they are right in action. I haven't had the pleasure as yet in sharing in their doughnuts and pies but I sure would like to, just so I could see an American girl. . . ."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 26 October 1918]

  • "We are no living in some dug-outs built by Fritz and I tell you he did a fine job while he was at it. There are some German graves here dated 1914, so we know he hadn't figured on ever giving it up. . . ."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his brother Alexander, 30 October 1918]

  • "The Hidenberg [sic] trenches are lined with bags of cement and some of their dugouts are great—over 50 feet down—bunks all built in—tables, stoves, etc., and we are making good use of them right now."

    [Letter, Elton Pease to "Mother and Everybody," ts, 6 October 1918]

  • "When he pulled out, he mined a good many places, so a fellow has to be extremely careful what he goes into and where he steps. One Yank in some other outfit went on a little sight-seeing tour and as he was going down into a nice, fine dug-out and stepped on the bottom step, he set off a big mine and now he has a nice little cross all his own."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his brother Alexander, 30 October 1918]

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Friendships

  • "I am so unhappy because so many of my friends are dead. We helped each other, so much, and went through so much trouble that I feel their loss very deeply."

    [Floyd King, Letter to "Dearest Folks," 20 October 1918]

  • From Base Hospital 27, Pvt. Floyd King, wounded by shrapnel that struck him in the back and right arm, wrote to his family about his closest friend:  "I am a long way off from him. . . .  I do not know if he is living or not. . . .  I can stand anything else. We are never separated from each other, when one can help it. We have always taken such good care of each other and we care more for each other than brothers. . . .  When I last saw him we were in a terrible place . . . and had been through three days of such narrow escapes from death. . . .  We had been praying for each other. Then I had to leave him and go to another part of the front. . . ." That is when King was injured.

    [Floyd King, Letter to "Dearest Folks," 20 October 1918]

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Red Cross and Salvation Army

  • "We all take off our tin hats to the Red Cross and Salvation Army Lassie who do more than their share in cheering up the boys as they are right in action. I haven't had the pleasure as yet in sharing in their doughnuts and pies but I sure would like to, just so I could see an American girl. . . ."

    [Letter, Elton Pease to "Mother and Everybody," ts, 6 October 1918]

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Seeking Recognition as a Soldier

  • "I used to be ambitious; I desired a war cross and honor, but my ideas have changed. I have seen too many men with those ambitions go down riddled with bullets. One of our lieutenants was shot twenty times while trying to rush a machinegun position, so I've come to the conclusion that I am of more value and credit to my country, to you and myself, as a live soldier, obedient and ready for duty, rather than a dead hero."

    [Karl Spencer, Letter to his mother, 28 June 1918, TS]

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POWs

  • "I have seen a lot of Hun prisoners and had a talk with one who could talk English. Most of them are only kids and are the happiest human beings you ever saw when they are safely over the top as prisoners of war. Nearly all of them will smile and say 'How war finish for me!' I gave this Fritz a cigarette and at first he was afraid to smoke it. I guess he thought it might be poisoned. His name was Johann von Sheck and he was twenty he said, although he didn't look over sixteen. He has lost four brothers and his father. Said he had been in two years."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to wife Edna, 6 July 1918]

  • "Very few of the fellows stop to take a prisoner unless they get a bunch too big to kill. The general thing is that when he comes with hands up he will stick you in the back or heave a bomb at you if you turn your back to him, so to save time and trouble, when he shouts 'Merch [?] Kamerad' someone will gently shove a bayonet into him or drop a seven second bomb under his shirt."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his father Dr. E. A. McCornack, 28 July 1918]

  • "I have a belt around my waist now that I took off a 'Fritz' that has the German crown on the buckle and says 'Gott mit Uns'. By the looks of things here I think Fritz will sure enough need God and all the men and ammunition he can get, for he is surely 'getting' his now and is beginning to fall back a little every day."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his father Dr. E. A. McCornack, 28 July 1918]

  • Captives were "mostly kids that fairly had a good start in school and they sure looked relieved when they marched in. Now and then you would see a few men 30 years or more. I guess they mix them up but it does no good as they sure seem to be pleased to be in our hands alive."

    [Letter, Elton Pease to "Mother and Everybody," ts, 6 October 1918]

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Souvenirs

  • "Some of our men went out this morning to salvage the dead Germans. They returned with watches, razors, iron crosses, pictures, knives, German money, and all sorts of souvenirs. I don't like salvaging, for the odor of a dead German is stifling; nix on that stuff. The only souvenir I care to bring back to the U.S.A. is yours truly."

    [Karl Spencer, Letter to his mother, 28 June 1918, TS]

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In the Hours before the Armistice

  • Some time after 5:00 a.m. one unit of American soldiers at Saulx, France, learned that an armistice would take effect at 11:00 a.m. At about 5:00 a.m., "some of the lads did hop over the top, but before our turn came we received the glad tidings."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 30 November 1918]

  • Beginning at 10:00 a.m. the Germans "let us in on the Grand Finale." [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 12 November 1918] "Fritz put over a great many shells and a lot of gas that last hour, but you can bet that the Yanks were hard to find."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 30 November 1918]

  • "We were behind old stone walls and in every place which looked like shelter. Some of the shells were gas shells, so we spent the last half hour of the World War with our old friend, the gas mask on. . . ."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 12 November 1918]

  • We spent the last hour with our gas masks on and could hardly realize when we took them off that it would be the last time we would have to wear that implement of torture,—and life-saver."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his father Dr. E. A. McCornack, 24 November 1918]

  • One doughboy wrote that the last shot from his sector "was a big one from back of us which was shooting over our heads."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 12 November 1918]

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Armistice

  • Beginning at 10:00 a.m. the Germans "let us in on the Grand Finale."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 12 November 1918]

  • "Fritz put over a great many shells and a lot of gas that last hour, but you can bet that the Yanks were hard to find."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 30 November 1918]

  • "We were behind old stone walls and in every place which looked like shelter. Some of the shells were gas shells, so we spent the last half hour of the World War with our old friend, the gas mask on. . . ."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 12 November 1918]

  • In the morning of November 11 "we got good news, for the report was that the big show would be over this a.m. at 11 o'clock." Shelling on both sides continued in the morning. Barnett wrote that "words will never be able to explain the noise that went through that woods. The Germans' barrage and ours, which was ten times worse than theirs, was just one roar." By 10:45 a.m., he knew that if "the Lord would only spare our lives for just fifteen minutes ... we would see the end of the war." In the last few minutes before 11:00 a.m., "every gun on the front opened. I can't see how all the shells could crowd through the air at once." It was "the biggest noise I ever heard in my life, and believe me I've heard some rackets." Then, "All at once every gun stopped, it was quiet, not a sound could be heard, the like of it I have never heard since being in action, for there are always guns firing. About one minute past 11, a yell went up, and our boys and the Germans cheered till they were hoarse. It just echoed through the woods and over the fields, for at last the curtain was pulled down and the most horrible, bloody war that this sad old earth has seen, had come to a close, and the show was over."

    [Private Maurice Barnett, letter to his mother, brothers, and sisters, ts., 14 November 1918]

  • "We spent the last hour with our gas masks on and could hardly realize when we took them off that it would be the last time we would have to wear that implement of torture,—and life-saver."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his father Dr. E. A. McCornack, 24 November 1918]

  • "PEACE! I'm writing this at 11:30, the morning of November 11th—the greatest day in history. The armistice has just been signed and the last shot was fired at 11:00. Talk about noise—the men, yelling, cheering, the remaining church bells clanging, every available rifle and machinegun firing. The old refugees crying—oh what a grand an' glorious feeling. 'For it's home boys home, it's home we long to be!' I'll never forget that night when I first heard that! The day is cold, typically November day—a heavy fog and mud!! The end of the war, only my tenth month, while the French have been through 52. I can never describe the feeling today—it's too good to be true—the dawn of a new day and home in sight."

    [Lt. Ralph Gordon, Diary, 11 November 1918]

  • At 11:00 a.m. "all the Fritzies hopped out of their trenches and waved their hats and shouted. They were just as happy as we were and wanted to talk. So some of our men who could talk German went over and talked it over with them. They said they were going to give up the next day if we came over very strong, but you can guess that we were all glad we didn't have to try it to find out whether or not they were telling the truth."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 12 November 1918]

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November 12

  • "Five other boys and myself went over to the German lines to talk with the men we tried to kill and those that tried to kill us. They met us with a salute and a more tickled crowd of men you've never seen than were those Germans. Some were fifty and sixty years old, some were only young boys."

    [Private Maurice Barnett, letter to his mother, brothers, and sisters, ts., 14 November 1918]

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"Salvage Work"

  • While doing "salvage work" on the St. Mihiel front—collecting materials left on fields of battle—one doughboy noted that some areas of "no man's land" "looked like a bone yard. There were skulls, arms, legs and ribs, strewn allover. They were Germans for I could tell by bits of their uniforms. Many an arm and leg was still in its coat sleeve and pant legs. By looking in a boot you'd find a leg or just a foot."

    [Private Maurice Barnett, letter to his wife, ts., 25 November 1918]

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"Thanksgiving Day 1918"

  • "We had just a common army dinner Thanksgiving Day, but you may be sure that everyone of us was thankful to be eating it. It was rainy and we had to stand in the mud to eat, but everyone was happy and talking of home and how soon we would get there."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 30 November 1918]

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God/Spirituality

  • "I am changed a great deal, from the way I used to be, as I constantly strive to lead a Christian life, and I think of others, who also have troubles, and by doing so I make friends where ever [sic] I go. . . ."

    [Floyd King, Letter to "Dearest Folks," 20 October 1918]

  • "I received 'The Woman's Prayer for a Man Over There,' and think it is the right stuff, and will tell you that is the way I am living 'Over Here,' so that when I come home again I will be a clean Christian man. A fellow gets very close to things here that make him think as he never thought before and change his whole view of life. A life here isn't worth a bad penny, and if he gets through a man has to give the credit to something far greater than 'luck'."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his father Dr. E. A. McCornack, 28 July 1918]

  • "We knew that as long as the war went on we would be doing the same old thing, living the same hard life, unless God saw fit to take us and lift us out of all the misery, and I have seen men who wished for one good clean, quick shot that would end it for them. We know how to be thankful to our Maker for seeing us through that year of Hell and I know that it has made a big difference in all of us,—made us see life in a different light. A soldier says that he was lucky and knows down in his heart that God was his luck."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 7 January 1919]

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Advice from Home

  • "Neither of us are children any longer Ralph, and if the war has done anything it has made everyone the decider of his own fortunes."

    [M. J. White, letter to (future fiancé and husband) Lt. Ralph S. Gordon, 5 November 1918]

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Army of Occupation

  • "You know, a soldier is a funny article. When the Army of Occupation was picked and the 33rd wasn't in it we felt as though we had been slighted, but when we were finally picked and sent to Germany we were sorry that we were not sent home. Can you beat that?"

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 7 January 1919]

  • In a letter to his mother, Cpl. Benjamin Boyer wrote, "I was in the last big drive and then when we finished there was one thing more we had to accomplish and that was the big march to the Rhine and we sure done it in grand style to [sic] but it was a long march. We started on the 17 [sic] of last month and arrived on the 11 [sic] of this so you can see it took almost one month. . . . Well mother we had a real nice trip even if it was tiresome at times. You see we walked almost 350 kilometers."

    [Letter, Earl Boyer to Mrs. G. A. (George Allen) Boyer, 23 December 1918]

  • "The army of occupation reported they were treated better by the Germans than they had been by the French."

    [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 39]

  • In Luxembourg one doughboy wrote, "The people here have suffered a great deal and surely are glad the war is over. While the war was on if any one said one word against Germany he was taken to prison and put to work. We hear of many cases of babies losing their hands or a foot or the women having an eye poked out if they didn't do just as Fritz wanted. Fritz went through here doing as he pleased and taking what he wanted and paying nothing for it. If anyone had nerve enough to object off came his head."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 20 December 1918]

  • "This life is a great deal worse than real war,—give me a little old dug-out where a fellow can do as he chooses, in preference to living in a stranger's home, and a stranger you can't even talk to, day and night with no place to go."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 30 December 1918]

  • "It is harder to stay here now doing practically nothing, than it was when the war was really going on."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his sister Margaret, 7 January 1918]

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Resentment toward Germans

  • "When one thinks of the fellows who will pay for this war for years to come, and all the good men who gave up their lives it makes a man feel bitter and wish that the man who was responsible for it all would soon be brought to time and a fitting end. But as yet he seems to be living pretty well and laughing up his sleeve at the rest of the world. I lived, or rather existed, for several weeks on Dead Man's Hill at Verdun, with several millions of dead men, and when we came away we left some of our pals there, and I say that not only the one man, but every single person who gave one cent, or rather one pfennig, to help the Hun kill those men should be made to suffer. The homes, the farms, and the factories in France, Belgium and Lorraine are ruined and the 'Squarehead' still has his home, his factory, etc., as good as ever. Sometimes I wonder if the Hun really did lose the fight."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to sister Margaret, 9 March 1919]

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The Red Poppy

  • In the vicinity of Verdun one doughboy wrote, "Enclosed are some poppies which were picked in a shell-hole in the center of the biggest and bloodiest battlefield in France. The only thing as far as the eye can see which is not in ruin is the pretty red poppy."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to George Hanley, 14 September 1918]

  • While doing "salvage work," that is, "collecting anything that belongs to the U. S. Government that has been left behind in the battles," Private Maurice Barnett reached for a red poppy. He wrote to his wife, "I'm enclosing a flower, the Poppy, that I picked in 'no man's land' on the St. Mihiel. They look so pretty out there and surely a place like that needs a few flowers to take away a little gloom."

    [Private Maurice Barnett, letter to his wife, ts., 25 November 1918]

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Marriage in France

  • Secretly married to an Army sergeant despite Army regulations prohibiting marriage, and not permitted to live with her newlywed husband, one Signal Corps "Hello Girl" mused, "I often fly away up beyond the clouds of ordinary, everyday life to the land of imagination and see our Hope of Happiness."

    [Melina Adam, letter to her husband Jack Converse, 12 February 1919]

  • "Everybody knows we are married now and although she isn't allowed to live with me, I have a room right across the street and she is known as Mrs., or Madame Converse...."

    [Sgt. Jack Converse, Services of Supply, letter to his mother Mrs. C. H. Beddome about his marriage to Signal Corps Supervisor Melina Adam, 25 April 1919]

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Anxious to Return Home

  • A Red Cross canteen worker met a U. S. lieutenant who disliked President Woodrow Wilson and opposed U. S. participation in Wilson's proposed League of Nations. "He hasn't much use for either; his one thought was to get out of this Country [sic] and get home. Most of the Americans have that same idea, but not any stronger than the French. They want the Americans to leave and I don't blame them. It must be hard to have a lot of strangers come in & take absolute charge of a whole district as the Americans have around Tours."

    [Irene Farrell, letter to Dearest Family, ts, 19 April 1919]

  • A Red Cross canteen worker noted that the Tours area called St. Pierre des Corps "is the intersecting point of the American railroads coming from Brest, Bordeaux, and St. Nagaire," and that troops which went through there to get to the front are now going through there to reach embarkation points for home. American soldiers tell her "how they hate the 'frogs' and the 'frog country' and . . . their experiences at the front."

    [Irene Farrell, letter to Dearest Family, ts., 24 April 1919]

  • "Frenchmen are very good hearted on the average but they are as a people too egotistic. They think France is better than America."

    [Letter, Milo Mosier to (brother) Leo Mosier, 21 March 1919, TS]

  • "It really is time the men were going home. They are getting into very bad habits for the lack of doing nothing."

    [Irene Farrell, letter to Dearest Mother, ts, 9 June 1919]

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General John H. Pershing

  • "He is avery fine looking, quite a large man. Much better looking with his hat on as he is getting quite bald. But I am glad to have seen him as close as at St. Pierre and to have shaken hands and said a few personal words."

    [Irene Farrell, letter to Dearest Mother, ts, 9 June 1919]

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News of Prohibition

  • Many doughboys returned to the U. S. just as Prohibition began. In France one doughboy appealed to another, "If you get home before that country of ours quits drinking, save a bit for me."

    [Henry (last name not legible), U. S. Army Embarkation Camp, A.P.O. 701, letter to Capt. Grinnell Martin, 25 February 1919]

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Departing France for Home

  • As his unit's band played "Smile the While You Bid Me Sad Adieu" and then "Homeward Bound," one doughboy thought, "at long last the world seemed like a good place to live. So we watched the French coast disappear over the horizon with few regrets; we also had accomplished what we came to do."

    [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 41]

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Back in the United States

  • "At 9 o'clock Long Island appeared on our right. From then on the cheering and yelling started." A welcome ship "crowded with people" came out and from the ship came the music "Home Sweet Home." "I will never forget it, never, and I'll bet that there was a big lump in everyone's throat." New York City buildings "seemed alive with waving handkerchiefs and the pier was a mass of people. The Red Cross band was playing. . . ." After disembarking, "we paraded through Hoboken. Capt. Donner, Lt. Greif and myself at the head of the column and, if I say it myself, the 3 proudest officers in the A.E.F. were at last home."

    [Lt. Ralph Gordon, Diary, 20 January 1919]

  • "The day we landed was just like Christmas. Every way we turned someone shoved things at us, stuff like candy, cake, gum, cigarettes, and best of all some real American apple pie, the first real pie we've tasted in over a year."

    [Wallace McCornack, letter to his wife Edna, 27 May 1919]

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Postscript

  • In 1983, sixty-five years after the Armistice, one former doughboy wrote, "We had been issued Gilette [sic] safety razors at Andilly, which were a vast improvement over the Ever Ready razors we got at Dodge. By the way, I still use mine and it works fine."

    [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 29]

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